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Thursday, 27 June 1996
Page: 2389

Senator WOODLEY —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. Minister, you would be aware of the concern of the chicken meat industry about the possibility of Australia allowing the importation of chicken meat from such countries as the USA, Denmark and Thailand, all of which have a background of virulent Newcastle disease virus. Will you ensure that an environmental impact statement to examine the impact of Newcastle disease virus on the Australian poultry industry and the Australian native bird population is undertaken as soon as possible?

Senator PARER —I think that the Democrats are about a month behind on this. We have had a series of questions about it. I would like to remind Senator Woodley that AQIS did conduct a quarantine risk assessment, in response to requests from the government, of the USA, Thailand and Denmark for market access for their cooked chicken meat, and there has been extensive consultation to ensure that all disease issues have been considered. The major poultry industry organisations have expressed their opposition to importation, citing concerns at possible disease risks and adverse economic consequences. AQIS concluded its technical assessment in May last year. I might say that the industry does not dispute the scientific basis for the proposed cooking process.

AQIS has published a statement of quarantine policy setting out in draft form the detailed arrangements under which the importation of cooked chicken meat from these countries will be allowed. Importation from Thailand will be subject to prior inspection by AQIS, with industry participation, of the Thai processing. Separately from the AQIS process, an interdepartmental committee has investigated the potential economic impact on the domestic industry of the removal of protection against import competition which has been provided to this time by quarantine restrictions.

Following a meeting that the minister had on 5 June, he requested the formation of two industry-government working groups. The first will allow industry to provide technical comments on AQIS's draft quarantine requirements; the second will examine the potential economic impact of cooked chicken meat imports and possible transitional adjustment options which government could consider.

Given that the issue has been discussed over the past six years, the minister was surprised to read a report in the Weekly Times just recently that the Victorian growers planned to launch a $1 million fighting fund. Just to answer your question in regard to an environmental impact statement, I would have to say to you, Senator, that you would know that this is very much a scientific study, and that sort of scientific study will continue.

Senator WOODLEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer, all of which I knew. What I refer to, Minister, is the fact that your Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, Mr Anderson, in a letter to John Clarke, President of the Victorian Farmers Federation chicken meat group on this issue, admitting that the studies had been done by AQIS, promised Mr Clarke a thorough investigation and, in the case of Newcastle disease, the conduct of an extensive environmental impact statement. Will the government be ensuring that the minister's promise is fulfilled?

Senator PARER —I am sure if Minister Anderson wrote to Mr Clarke, and I would have no idea whether he did or did not, and said that, that he will do it.